The fast food of the East End lives on at the beautiful F. Cooke eel, pie and mash shops, established in the nineteeth century and still owned and run by the Cooke family.
You’ll find branches at 9 Broadway Market and 150 Hoxton Street; an older branch, on Kingsland Road, was sold by the Cookes in 1997 and later housed the Shanghai Chinese restaurant, famous for their dim sum.
F. Cooke purveys the same food it always has done: pies and mash drenched in parsley sauce (known as liquor), stewed or jellied eels – and fruit pies with custard.
Both the menu and the gleaming shops themselves, fitted out with ceramic tiles and marble-topped counters and tables, are a blast from the past.
At the end of World War Two there were over a hundred eel, pie and mash houses in London, providing cheap and nutritious fodder for the poor – and the Thames was wriggling with eels.
Eel numbers in the Thames have crashed in recent years, and nowadays most of the eels the Cooke family buy from Billingsgate are farmed in Holland – but otherwise the businesses, with their sawdust-scattered floors, low prices and bantering welcome, remain pretty much unchanged.
In case you’re wondering, eel tastes a bit like pickled herring, with a soft texture and a bone running through it. Those who haven’t the stomach for eel can try a traditional minced beef pie.